Striking a balance

Monday, June 8, 2015

The revisions to the Patriot Act, recently passed by the U.S. Senate after a sometimes contentious debate, strikes a balance between those who want to restore lost civil liberties and those who want intelligence agencies to maintain the ability to gather information. It's the first time Congress has placed limits on the government's ability to spy on Americans after the 9/11 attacks.

The federal government had gone too far in data collection, at the expense of the legitimate privacy rights of U.S. citizens.

The new law will end the National Security Agency's wholesale phone-records collection program and replace it with a more restrictive measure to keep the records in the hands of phone companies. Most of the programs of the old Patriot Act will remain intact under the new law, but significant changes were enacted.

Now the government will need a court order to obtain data connected to a specific number from a phone company. The law creates a panel of outside experts to advise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which up to now has largely gone along with whatever the Bush and Obama administrations have requested.

The change developed from a long-overdue debate by lawmakers on how we balance concerns about privacy and national security.

A panicked rush to create policy during a time of national anger and fear results in bad policy.